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Shaving cream seems to have replaced neat's-foot oil as the emollient of choice, which is too bad, because now we'll never know what a neat is. (Actually, neat is an obscure word meaning bovine animal. So the cow gave twice.) Here is a brief list of some other substances used to improve gloves: petroleum jelly, baby oil, olive oil, mink oil, saddle soap, shoe polish, tobacco juice, bubble gum juice, tape remover, skin lotion and...well, we'll let Tony Kubek tell it: "I was sitting on the bench with Eddie Brinkman, the great shortstop with the Senators and Tigers. He had his glove in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Suddenly he began pouring coffee in his glove. 'Eddie, you're kidding!' I said. 'No,' he said, 'this is the way I've always broken in my gloves. Coffee—cream and a little sugar.' "
Teams often have designated breaker-inners. Willie Stargell used to do gloves for his fellow Pirates. The Royals used Tim Ireland, a journeyman infielder in their organization who now stars for the Fort Myers Sun Sox in the senior association. When Ready was with the Padres, he did a lot of customizing.
"It's pretty simple," he says. "Basically, I just lather the glove up with shaving cream. Sometimes a guy will want me to take out some of the padding in the heel, which is easy enough. Then I tie the glove up with two balls in it. After a few days, I unravel it to see if it's ready. If not, I just repeat the process. But the best way to break it in is to practice with it."
Keith Hernandez, Cleveland's new first baseman and the recipient of 11 Gold Glove awards, has a more complicated recipe:
1) Practice with the glove until the leather becomes more flexible.
2) Tighten the laces.
3) Practice some more.
4) Saturate the glove's pocket with warm water.
5) Place two balls in the pocket and fold the finger portion of the glove inside the thumb.
6) Tape the glove closed and let it dry.